Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thursday Night in Williamsburg: Classical Candy String Quartets at Pete's Candy Store

After taking out the garbage at 7:20 p.m. this evening, we walked up Lorimer Street under the BQE to Pete’s Candy Store to catch the 7:30 p.m. start of our wonderful neighborhood bar and hangout's newest biweekly music series, Classical Candy, curated by Anna Callner and Jacob Silver. (Pete's website calls it "bi-monthly" but lots of folks mix this up. It ain't even "semi-monthly" since there are three Classical Candy events in July.)

Well, we know grammar and usage a lot, lot better than we know classical music. To say we have an untrained ear would be a misunderstatement. But we do listen to WQXR when we can't sleep (which is to say every night around 2 a.m.) and we love Terence McKnight's Evening Music on WNYC. So we were excited about Classical Candy, "an after work Thursday gathering featuring performances by some of New York’s finest young classically trained musicians eager to present pieces that represent the truly eclectic, varied, and exciting sound world that encompasses ‘classical’ chamber music. Each evening will be an hour-long exploration of acoustic composed works by various composers from days pre-Bach to works by living composers for a variety of instruments."

We weren't disappointed - but almost were, because we got the last just-put-in seats in the very last row of Pete's Candy Store's back performance room. The warm, inviting space we've always liked for readings - it's made up to look like an old train car - was filled to the rafters, not just the tables but the floors and standing space (the woman behind us, bless her heart, was suffering from a bad cold and constantly sniffled and occasionally coughed on us). People were also standing on the side. We estimated the crowd at maybe 50, mostly young but a few older people like us.

Tonight's string quartet - who just about fit in their chairs on the room's tiny stage - was a nameless group ("If you've got a clever name for us, let us know") of young, very talented female musicians:

On viola, Elizabeth Weinfield, who holds a Master's degree in music/musicology from Oxford University. Her specialization is in period instruments and performance practice, and she performs as a violist and gambist throughout New York and in Europe. Most recently she mounted an exhibition of baroque plucked string instruments at the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, where she held a research post. When not teaching or performing, she spends her time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she edits and writes for the museum's Timeline of Art History.

On cello, Classical Candy co-curator Anna Callner, who has been playing (and lugging around her instrument) for the last 18 or some odd years of her life. Born and raised in Seattle, Anna was first handed a cello when she was told "the orchestra already has too many violinists!" And that was that. Anna has studied cello on scholarship in Seattle, New York, Russia, Ohio, and Florida. Reared on classical music study all the way through college and graduate school, Anna has played everything from standard orchestral and chamber music repertoire to experimental jazz, pop, rock and performance art. and she and Monica - yes, that's her cello's name - have performed in venues across the United States, Europe, Russia, and Brazil.

On violin, Rebecca Schlappich, who graduated from Manhattan School of Music as a violin performance major, and was a member of Kiss Kiss, a band who's been compared to Cursive, Murder by Death, and Man Man. Rebecca also has been a member of bands of all genres, including trip-hop, pop, and folk/country. While she was raised on and loves playing classical music, her true passion is bringing the violin to genres of music in which you wouldn't expect to hear a violin. She fills her time with touring, recording, and freelancing as much as possible.

On violin, Julia Koo, who has studied violin with some of the world’s top artists and has a bachelor’s degree in music from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, as well as a master’s in music from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Koo has taught at the University of Massachusetts, the Northampton Center for the Arts, and the Williston Northampton School, and her performance credits are also impressive. In addition to attending festivals from Germany to Brazil, she has performed as principal second with the Henry Mancini Orchestra and others, including appearances as a soloist with the Opus 1 Chamber Ensemble and the Korean Canadian Orchestra.

It was a beautiful performance, informal but elegant (sort of - the musicians were dressed up, the people around us were in torn jeans), with the kind of vibe that should attract people who normally don't go to classical music events to Classical Candy. The acoustics were surprisingly good, although way in the back, while the music was breathtakingly beautiful, we couldn't easily hear all the commentary of Julia and the other musicians when they talked about the works. As we said, we're shamefully ignorant, but they began with a series of Renaissance pieces that called for a lot of skillful improvisation.

Then there was Dvorak's String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, “The American,” Op. 96, B. 179, which even we have heard before but never live, and it was a treat. The man next to us kept shaking his head back and forth and at first we thought he found something wrong with the music until we realized he was rhapsodic. Although nationalistic (written during a homesick sojourn in a small community of his fellow Czechs in Iowa), there's also a palpable sense of longing in the movement we heard.

Not that we know nothing about Dvorak or about the next piece, saved by a man who rushed in after driving over at 80 mph to deliver the sheet music, very different from what we'd heard before, by Mozart ("A hust-la!" shouted a trio of women in the audience, on cue, upon hearing the Austrian composer's name) but equally well-played, not only to our naive and ignorant ears but also to those around us who really knew classical music. We're embarrassed to admit that we didn't hear, and consequently don't know, which of Mozart's 23 string quartets was being performed.

But, hey, we know what we like, and we thought this was a wonderful evening. The woman sitting in front of us was thrilled by the music and had not only a drink like most of us (club soda in our case) but one of Pete's warm ciabatta sandwiches with Black Forest ham, Swiss gruyère, onion and mustard - the only quartet all evening that we weren't privileged to enjoy.

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